Though no strangers to the Meteor Choice Music Awards, having had their debut album ‘Hither Thither’ nominated in 2010, the inclusion of ‘Vitreous’ on this year’s shortlist must feel extra sweet for O Emperor. Recorded and produced by the band in their self-built studio, this was an album made entirely on their own terms and its inclusion certainly goes a long way to justifying their decision to go down the D.I.Y route. Not only that but the praise is completely justified; this is as good as any Irish album released in the past few years.
In many ways getting dropped has worked to O Emperor’s advantage. It’s certainly allowed the band to be more adventurous; while their first album was very much a folk rock affair this album sees the band move into much more experimental territories, adopting elements of prog rock, post-rock, electronica, and even a bit of glam along the way. It has also lead to the emergence of the bands more abrasive side, which is best illustrated on Contact, one of the album’s stand out tracks. By far the most visceral we’ve heard the band to date, the glam rock stomp it carries feels like a raw wallop to the senses. Holy Fool is another number on which they adopt a more upbeat tempo. Although not as heavy as Contact, this short blast of bubble gum pop still packs a punch. Lyrically things have gotten grittier too, with singer Paul Savage longing for the ‘shit of the city air’ on Grandmother Mountain; which is about as far away from the folk mantra as you can get.
Sandwiched in between all this are a selection of ambient cuts on which the band delve even deeper into the sea of experimentation. Whitener and Brianchild are hazy and dreamlike with Savage reducing his vocals to no more than a whisper. That’s only scratching the surface though; both are layered with little twists and surprises that only come to light after multiple listens. Mineut is even trippier; a haunting psychedelic groove that owes itself to ‘Sgt. Peppers’ era Beatles., It’s the album’s swansong that leaves the biggest impression though; a track In which everything falls beautifully into place. Lying somewhere between Radiohead and Sigur Ros, This Is It is the best song the band has recorded to date and a fitting curtain closer to the album.
At a mere 29 minutes in length this album completely bucks the current trend of bands releasing sprawling epics. Its short running time works to the album’s advantage too. Though the versatility of sound on show is excellent, it does give the album a slightly uneven feel; any longer and you feel the balance would be upset even further. Its slight lack of solidity aside, there’s not much to fault here. A cracking display of musical virtuosity it represents a victory for independent music and DIY aesthetics. If chosen it’ll be a worthy winner of the Choice Music Prize, too.